Sam had been poring over Wadsworth’s file on Damien, to see what she knew, what she had paid attention to so that Sam could work around it. She knew that Damien was the same age as Mark. That he’d been on his own since he was thirteen, when his parents left and he dropped out of school shortly thereafter. There were a lot of files from multiple jurisdictions, starting from the Midwest and spreading all the way out to California. Sam grudgingly had to admit it was an impressive piece of detective work, Wadsworth must sleep as little as she herself did.
Aside from a few confusing reports from CPS in early 2001, the only trail Damien left behind was a juvenile record, which was mostly a mess of conflicting and recanted witness statements and officers mysteriously misplacing keys to holding cells. There wasn’t much photographic evidence other than grainy screenshots from security tapes and one mugshot from 2004, stamped SEALED Omaha PD. Damien was clearly hamming it up for the camera despite the black eye he was sporting, his split lips tilted up into that infuriating cocksure smile, secure in the knowledge that he could slither his way out of anything. Still, there had been something about the jut of his acne-dotted chin and the wideness of his eyes that betrayed how young he was, and scared. Sam didn’t want to think about what it had been like, to be that young and completely on your own. She didn’t want to remember. So she got up to walk around the house to release that restless energy, habitually checking the locks on the windows as she went from room to room.
When she got back to her study, Mark was there, balancing on his forearms over the back of her mom’s old chair, leaning over and inspecting the photo on the laptop screen with an inscrutable look on his face. Sam made a small questioning noise and Mark straightened abruptly as if caught rifling through her underwear drawer.
“Is this for...” Mark trailed off.
“Yes,” Sam replied cautiously, “I’ll have it all ready by tomorrow, I think. Not that you have to -” she wrung her hands together. “I’m not trying to rush you, you can take all the time you need. It’ll be there. When you’re ready.”
“Thank you.” Mark tilted his head towards the screen and asked, “where did you find this, anyway?”
“It was in the file Wadsworth kept on Damien.”
“She’s been working on it for some time. Even before last summer.”
“How do you know that?” Understanding dawned on Mark’s face. “Sam,” he began.
“I’m being careful,” Sam cut in, “I know how to cover my tracks.”
Mark watched Sam, clearly processing what she was not saying and casting it aside onto the avoid pile. Sam had the terrible feeling that pile was going to come crashing down around them some day soon. “Does she have files like this on everyone?” he finally asked. When Sam hesitated he said ruefully, “of course she does, she has to know everything.”
Sam wanted to take Mark’s hand and offer comfort but it felt inadequate against the weight of the things that she was keeping from him.
Mark’s gaze wandered back to the photo on the screen. “What did he do?”
“Really?” Mark asked, his eyebrows climbing up to his hairline.
“I didn’t read through the details but there was an all out brawl. A man nearly lost an eye. Nobody could tell how it started, though.” Sam heaved a sigh. “There’s a stack of reports like this, and in all of them everyone is always so confused.”
“I’ll bet,” Mark muttered, “what happened then?”
“Apparently, he couldn’t charm his way out of this one so easily and they booked him.”
Mark hummed thoughtfully. “Too many people, probably.”
“He didn’t have anybody so they were going to hold him for the night, deal with him the next day but by the morning he was gone. He next shows up six months later around Austin. A bunch of speeding tickets this time.”
“Well that checks out, he drives like a headless chicken.” Mark was still looking at the photo, his expression softened by a memory he wasn’t going to share. Sam’s stomach twisted painfully, she had to make peace with the fact that a part of her was always going to be terrified of losing Mark to Damien again. Of all the worries vying for her attention every second of every day, this one at least had a simple logic behind it. “He hasn’t changed much,” Mark said at last, then shook his head and gave her a smile, a tremulous but beautiful thing. “Anyway, I came here to tell you that dinner will be ready in,” he checked his watch, “ten minutes ago. Shit. Okay.” He leaned in to give her a quick kiss on the temple. “I’m gonna go make sure I haven’t burned the kitchen down.”
Sam smiled back at him. Mark kissed her again and hurried out the room. “Darwin, buddy, give me a status report,” she heard him call out and Darwin chirp in response.
She turned back to her laptop screen where Damien was watching her. Even behind the wide-eyed misery she was uncomfortably familiar with lurking there, he looked for all the world like he knew something she didn’t. “You’re going to leave us alone,” she told him and clicked the window closed.